Friday, May 04, 2012

Coverage Ink/Writers on the Storm April 2012 Newsletter

May, 2012

1) Three Ways to Bring the SIZZLE!
2) Shorties- News Blips for Writers
3) Man on a Mission: InkTip's Gato Scatena
4) Steve Kaire's Screenwriting 20 Questions


Three Ways to Bring the Sizzle!

We are wordsmiths. What does that mean exactly? Literally, it means we take words and mold them into usable forms, like another kind of smith may do with a refined moonstone and iron ingots to make Elven armor (sorry, been playing too much Skyrim lately.) But I have noticed one area where we wordsmiths tend to slack, and that is: the SIZZLE.

We can all write. All of us know how to compose a sentence, a paragraph, a scene. But oftentimes we forget the art of refinement -- of bringing showmanship, panache, je ne sais quoi, to the presentation. Too often, we'll craft some description or dialogue, and without really thinking twice about it or really scrutinizing it, we'll leave it be and move along. Thing about screenwriting, though: that ain't good enough. Sure, you could likely get away with that in a book. You have a lot more latitude -- more pages to explore secondary characters and subplots, and most crucially, more patience from the the reader. Hell, Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, could spend a page and a half describing a tablecloth and it would be compelling. Try that in a screenplay, however, and you are dead meat.  

And so, here are three quick (but not necessarily easy) things that you should do to make your writing leap off the page:

1) Edit Mercilessly! This may be the single easiest thing to say, yet the hardest thing to get writers to do. Why? Because it requires examining what you've written with an editor's eye. It means you must fall out of love with your prose and instead, view it as a garden overrun with weeds and snails. Watch my 6-minute video on this very topic, Writer, Edit Thyself, right here.

2) Choose Wisely. Lazy word choices plague many a script. For example: "Sarah walks to the table." Really? You're a writer. Can't you find a snappier way to say that? "Walk" is an uninspired verb choice that tells us nothing other than the movement. But what if Sarah were to slouch her way to the table? Shimmy? Sashay? Bounce? Zip? Strut? Slink? Slither? Ooze? Undulate? Skitter? Stagger, swish, launch, meander? I think you all get the idea. So just like editing, get into the habit of scrutinizing your specific word choices as well. Is there a better, cooler, more dynamic way to say what you're trying to say? "Rodrigo falls to the ground." Yawn. How about " Rodrigo eats pavement"? Yes!

3) Break it up. Tell me if this sounds familiar: the person who reads your script completely misses something that was clearly in the script. Did the reader skim? Maybe. Or it could be that even though the key kernel of information was indeed in the screenplay, it was buried. Long paragraphs are for books, not screenplays. You always have to assume the people reading your screenplay have A.D.D. You need to do everything you can to seize them by the throat. Parcel out your information in small bites, and if it's important, use slug lines to call attention to it. F'rinstance:
Connie backs away from her pink Jetta, jaw agape. She shakes her head in disbelief. Looks back to Brian, who opens his hands, also stunned. The Jetta's locks suddenly close. The car begins to drive away all by itself.  Connie runs after it but as she catches up, the car rolls over her toe. Connie yelps and the Jetta rolls away, swishing it's antenna as if to say "buh-bye!"
Okay, there was a lot of info packed into that paragraph. You think the average agent's assistant is really going to trudge through that? Hell no. It looks like work, so they're gonna skim. But now suppose you do this:
Connie backs away from her pink Jetta, jaw agape, shaking her head in disbelief. 

She looks back to Brian, who opens his hands, also stunned. 


Suddenly snap closed.  The car drives away all by itself


Gasps, runs after it.  But as she catches up --


The Jetta crunches over it.  

                 Aah!  Damn it!

The Jetta putt-putts away, swishing its antenna as if to say "buh-bye!"
So what we did there was break it down, make it more digestible and cinematic.  All the important actions got their own slugline. In this way we are directing the action without telling the director where to place the camera, a neat trick indeed. We also fixed the typo (remember, "it's" is NEVER possessive, but rather, is only a contraction of IT IS. The possessive version is simply "its.") The downside of this style is, of course, it takes up way more space. Which brings us full-circle to #1: Edit mercilessly!

Now it's not intuitive to do any of this. It takes a lot of practice. But if you want to break in, you need more than just competency. You need to bring the sizzle! (Oh, yeah, and have some great connex.)


What's up? Buncha stuff, thanks for asking! First, we've pushed back our Writers on the Storm contest. It now runs from 9/24 through 12/31/12. Peep the deets below. We've got some news on the state of the biz, both features and TV, another edition of Steve Kaire's highly entertaining 20 Questions, an interview with InkTip's Gato Scatena and more!

And hey, remember, guys, if any of you ever feel stuck or just need some advice, just write me at We're all in this together.

Onward and downward!

Jim Cirile
Founder, Coverage Ink
Writers on the Storm

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Continue on to Shorties - News Blips for Writers

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